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Windmills Tilted, Scared Cows Butchered, Lies Skewered on the Lance of Reality ... or something to that effect.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Daily Drift

Days gone by ...

Some of our readers today have been in:
Roxas, Philippines
Cheras, Malaysia
Hanoi, Vietnam
Birmingham, England
Macau, Macao
Rangoon, Burman
Colombo, Sri Lanka
Toronto, Canada
L'viv, Ukraine
Lima, Peru
Ankara, Turkey
San Jose, Costa Rica
Petaling Jaya, Malaysia
Tbilisi, Georgia
Sofia, Bulgaria
Bremen, Germany
Khartoum, Sudan
Kingston, Jamaica
Kuwait, Kuwait
Kiev, Ukraine
Gibraltar, Gibraltar
Warsaw, Poland
Kharkiv, Ukraine
Dubai, United Arab Emirates
Sialkot, Pakistan
Baku, Azerbaijan
Bangkok, Thailand
Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
Belgrade, Serbia
Teluk, Malaysia
Pasig, Philippines
Quito, Ecuador
Banja Luka, Bosnia and herzegovina
Jakarta, Indonesia
Cape Town, South Africa
Sha Alam, Malaysia
Haifa, Israel
Alor Setar, Malaysia
Edinburgh, Scotland
Johor Bahru, Malaysia
Waterloo, Canada
Kuala Terengganu, Malaysia
Dublin, Ireland
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
London, England
Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia
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Today in History

69 Vespians's supporters enter Rome and discover Vitellius in hiding. He is dragged through the streets before being brutally murdered.
1355 Stephen Urosh IV of Serbia dies while marching to attack Constantinople.
1802 The United States buys the Louisiana territory from France.
1860 South Carolina secedes from the Union.
1861 English transports loaded with 8,000 troops set sail for Canada so that troops are available if the "Trent Affair" is not settled without war.
1924 Adolf Hitler is released from prison after serving less than one year of a five year sentence for treason.
1930 Thousands of Spaniards sign a revolutionary manifesto.
1933 The German government announces 400,000 citizens are to be sterilized because of hereditary defects.
1938 First electronic television system is patented.
1941 The Flying Tigers, American pilots in China, enter combat against the Japanese over Kunming.
1943 Soviet forces halt a German army trying to relieve the besieged city of Stalingrad.
1946 Viet Minh and French forces fight fiercely in Annamite section of Hanoi.
1948 U.S. Supreme Court announces that it has no jurisdiction to hear the appeals of Japanese war criminals sentenced by the International Military Tribunal.
1960 National Liberation Front is formed by guerrillas fighting the Diem regime in South Vietnam.
1962 In its first free election in 38 years, the Dominican Republic chooses leftist Juan Bosch Gavino as president.
1963 Four thousand cross the Berlin Wall to visit relatives under a 17-day Christmas accord.
1989 U.S. troops invade Panama to oust General Manuel Noriega and replace him with Guillermo Endara.

Non Sequitur


A Short Course on the Mayan Calendar and the Apocalypse

vDr. Phil Plait wrote a book called Death From The Skies, in which he details the many ways the Earth could be destroyed by astronomical events. But even he isn't worried about the world ending anytime soon, because he knows the odds -they're "astronomical." So why are people still talking about the December 21st apocalypse? Because they misunderstand what the Mayan calendar actually says.
It had as its basic units a day (called a k’in) and a 360-day period called a tun. The Maya understood that a physical year was five days longer than a tun, and had other calendars to deal with that. They had longer units, too, like the ka’tun—just shy of 20 years—and most importantly for apocalypse aficionados, the b’ak’tun—roughly 394 of our years. The starting point for their calendar (Year Zero, if you like) is 3114 B.C., the date they figured the Earth was created.

Knowing all this, we can match their calendar to ours and convert any date they used to our more familiar system. If you do the math, you’ll find that we are nearing the end of the 13th b’ak’tun. In fact, it ends on Dec. 21, 2012.

That’s this Friday. Cue the spooky music.

The thing is, there is no suggestion, not even a hint, in Maya writing that they thought the end of this current b’ak’tun had any connection to doomsday. It’s entirely possible it may have even been thought of as a time of celebration (just like we celebrate New Year’s Eve).

The Maya also had bigger units of time, including the piktun (which was either 13 or 20 b’ak’tun), and the alautun, which was—get this—63 million years! So it doesn’t sound like they were predicting the end of the world ever, let alone by this weekend.
At Bad Astronomy, Plait goes on to explain how other doomsday theories came about and were debunked in the past -and present. And, of course, we'll see more in the future. But as Douglas Adams once said, "Don't Panic." More

Strike looms at East and Gulf Coast ports

In this photo taken Tuesday, Dec. 18, 2012, a truck driver watches as a freight container, right, is lowered onto a tractor trailer truck by a container crane at the Port of Boston, in Boston. The crane and a reach stacker, left, are operated by longshoremen at the port. The longshoremen's union may strike if they are unable to reach an agreement on their contract that expires Dec. 29, 2012. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)
Weeks after a critical West Coast port complex was crippled by a few hundred striking workers, the East Coast is bracing for a possible walkout numbering thousands that could close 15 ports from Massachusetts to Texas. The latest talks between shipping companies and dockworkers broke down Tuesday, less than two weeks before the contract expires Dec. 29, leading to worries a strike was inevitable.
The National Retail Federation wrote to President Barack Obama this week to ask him to use "all means necessary" to head off a strike, which they fear could have catastrophic ripple effects nationwide. "We foresee this as a national economic emergency, to be honest," said Jonathan Gold, the group's vice president of supply chain and customs policy.
Gold said billions in commerce at countless businesses nationwide could be affected, from auto manufacturers awaiting parts to the truckers that deliver them.
Ingrid Hirstin Lazcano, founder of the Los Angeles-based Andean Dream LCC, said a strike on the East and Gulf Coasts could bankrupt her company, which sells soups, pasta and other products made from quinoa, a grain, grown in the Bolivian Andes.
The company has two containers shipped monthly to both Los Angeles and Philadelphia, and Lazcano said she's still recovering from the eight-day strike of 450 clerical workers at the Los Angeles-Long Beach port complex, which ended Dec. 4.
"If the strike does happen, we will be paralyzed," she said. "We will not be able to fill orders."
James McNamara, spokesman for the International Longshoremen's Association, said the union knows what's at stake for others but must protect its membership.
"We offer the labor that keeps the commerce moving," he said. "If management doesn't appreciate or respect the labor that has made them a lot of money, then we have to do what we have to do."
A strike wouldn't affect passenger cruise ships, U.S. mail, military cargo or perishable cargo with a limited shelf life. It also wouldn't affect non-container, or break bulk, cargo such as steel, wood products and cars.
The longshoremen's union represents 14,500 workers at the 15 ports, which extend south from Boston and handle 95 percent of all containerized shipments from Maine to Texas, about 110 million tons' worth. The New York-New Jersey ports handle the most cargo on the East Coast, valued at $208 billion in 2011. The other ports that would be affected by a strike are Boston; Delaware River; Baltimore; Hampton Roads, Va.; Wilmington, N.C.; Charleston, S.C., Savannah, Ga.; Jacksonville, Fla.; Port Everglades, Fla., Miami; Tampa, Fla.; Mobile, Ala.; New Orleans and Houston.
The impasse comes during a 90-day extension of the current contract. On Tuesday, a federal mediator offered another monthlong extension. Various issues, including wages, are unresolved, but the sides couldn't agree on what's become the key sticking point, container royalties.
The royalties are payments to union workers based on the weight of cargo received at each port. They were created in the 1960s to boost wages and finance worker benefits after increased automation cut down salaries and jobs, making it impossible for the dwindling labor force to finance its benefits, McNamara said.
The container carriers and port operators, represented by the U.S. Marine Alliance, want to cap the royalties at 2011 levels, saying they've morphed into a huge expense, totally unrelated to their original purpose, which hurts the industry's competitiveness as it tries to keep up with new technology. The alliance says the royalty payments now amount to a bonus averaging $15,500 annually for East Coast workers who already earn more than $50 per hour.
The union says the payments aren't a bonus, they're an important supplemental wage. It argues that in its previous contract, management agreed to remove the royalties cap in exchange for being allowed to use $42 million of royalty payments to cover a previously negotiated wage increase. There's no way the union can allow the alliance to revive the cap now and accept the cuts in worker income and union revenue, McNamara said.
The sides have traded charges of inflexibility, though both also point to a history of cooperation since the last East Coast-wide strike in 1977. No one has ruled out renewing talks.
But with time so short, companies are pushing up shipment dates or finding alternative transportation, said Steve Lamar, executive vice president of the Washington-based American Apparel and Footwear Association.
Companies are already worried about restocking after the holidays, and some are still dealing with the effects of the West Coast shutdown and Superstorm Sandy, he said.
"You've already got companies and ports and trade that have been battered by a couple of situations over the last couple of months, and we still have this uncertainty," Lamar said.
In Philadelphia, port executive Robert Blackburn estimates a strike could affect 60 percent of the tonnage the port handles.
"Frankly, there's not a lot we can do except that hope that cooler heads prevail and, if they don't, perhaps there will be intervention by the president," Blackburn said.

Banks finally be squeezed by their own investors

Before the infamous Wall Street collapse a few years ago, bankers were pulling in record income. Goldman’s CEO Lloyd Blankfein received a stunning $67.9 million bonus in 2007. Naturally, it would have been impolite to ask him and the rest of the bankers to pay back the big bucks generated from bogus business.As we wrap up 2012, there’s a lot of worry on Wall Street because the job cuts have continued (30,000 this year, according to Bloomberg), and the pay is reportedly half of what it used to be. As tough as that may sound for most of us, few appreciate how much the bankers were and still are making.
There are a few industries where pay is considerably higher than anywhere else, and banks are at the top – even higher than the fat paychecks in Big Pharma. Generating $400,000 or $500,000 per year is solid, but nothing special for modern bankers. The “London Whale” who lost billions for JP Morgan was certainly making at least seven figures, but there are plenty more making much more in the industry.
What is a generally positive development is that shareholders are now doing a “Wall Street” to Wall Street. They are demanding cuts by the banks and more rewards for buying their stock. Tired of low returns, shareholders want their pound of flesh from Wall Street, and to a degree, they’re getting it. Bloomberg:
rich guy bank 1%
Citigroup, the third-biggest U.S. bank by assets, climbed 4.8 percent in the two days after its board ousted Chief Executive Officer Vikram Pandit, 55. Earlier this year, shareholders cast a non-binding vote rejecting Pandit’s compensation package. The stock also jumped 6.3 percent when his replacement, Michael Corbat, 52, said the New York-based bank would cut 11,000 jobs.
After Switzerland’s UBS said it would jettison most of its fixed-income business and cut as many as 10,000 jobs, the Zurich-based bank’s stock price climbed above book value for the first time in 15 months. Many of its rivals, including JPMorgan and Goldman Sachs, haven’t traded above that level all year. Book value is an estimate of how much the bank’s assets would be worth minus all of its liabilities.
Even after gains this year, shares of the nine banks still trade at depressed levels as investors question their ability to boost profits. Total return to shareholders, which includes price gains as well as dividends, has been negative since the end of 2008 at Charlotte, North Carolina-based Bank of America, Citigroup and Credit Suisse. Only Barclays has beaten the S&P 500 Index (SPX) in that period. Just as those on Wall Street rewarded companies like GE during the Jack Welch years for chopping the workforce, investors are now rewarding banks that chop their workforce. It’s an important change and one that has stuck in my mind for a while. The compensation percentages at the big banks still makes up a very high percentage of overall revenue, typically in the mid to high 30′s as a percentage of net revenue.
While investors are forcing Wall Street to chop costs like other industries, Wall Street is still looking at a better bonus season than last year, though overall pay may decline.
Even if the total pay levels were flat, it still is highly unfair to everyone else who is being asked to keep paying for the mistakes of the Republicans and George Bush. The rumor is a tax increase for those above $400,000 per year in exchange for modifications to Social Security which hurt the middle class.
The class warfare by The 1% continues and the reform, while more obvious this year, still doesn’t go far enough. Just as it’s unsustainable for Wall Street to punish investors by paying such high levels of compensation, asking the middle class to fund foreign wars (both financially and with bodies) and irresponsible tax cuts is not sustainable. At one point, the political class needs to step it up and force those responsible to pay for their mistakes.

The truth be told

Pizza customer shoots other customer after “exchanging words,” cites “stand your ground” law

Looking at this new, and ridiculous, shooting at a pizza store in Florida, I can’t help but be reminded of the , warning that if we arm people, they might be tempted to do stupid things.Do people carrying guns take unnecessary risks when they’re in situations like this? We’ve all been somewhere with an annoying customer or person who everyone wishes would go away. (Or in traffic, with an annoying driver in another car.)  Maybe the person in this case was a complete jerk and was bothering everyone, but should it have escalated so quickly into a gunfight?
Also, should “stand your ground” really be a justification for shooting some annoying guy at a pizza joint?
Tampa Bay Times:
concealed weapon
Police said the incident unfolded about 4 p.m. inside the Little Caesars, 3463 Fourth St. N, after Randall White, 49, got mad about his service.
Another man in line, Michael Jock, 52, of St. Petersburg admonished White.
That “prompted them to exchange words and it became a shoving match,” said police spokesman Mike Puetz.
White raised a fist. Jock, a concealed-weapons permit holder, pulled out a .38 Taurus Ultralight Special Revolver.
He fired one round, hitting White in the lower torso. The men grappled and the gun fired again, hitting White in roughly the same spot, police said. Perhaps the alleged shooter eventually did fear for his life, but again, did the gun give him the courage to ramp up the argument with the annoying customer? I’m struggling to see how the gun helped address this situation, and personally find it a flimsy excuse to reference the “stand your ground” law. From afar, it’s hard to differentiate this from someone wanting to be a tough guy, then getting in over his head.

Spider-Man vs. Obama

Spider-Man tangles with President Obama at the White House.

Roquefort Cheese: It's the Fondue of Youth!

Roquefort cheese
At 85.3 years, French women enjoy the longest life expectancy in Europe. Why? Perhaps it's because of Roquefort cheese, which apparently has anti-inflammatory properties:
The properties of the blue cheese, which is aged in caves in the south of France, near Toulouse, were found to work best in acidic environments of the body, such as the lining of the stomach or the skin surface.
Acidification is also a common process accompanying inflammation such as in joints affected by arthritis or special plaque on an artery wall.
Researchers at a biotechnology company in Cambridge, UK, are now trying to extract those properties and recreate them in pharmaceuticals.

Fire Breathers Blazing a Trail in the City of Light

Once a year, fire breathers from all over Europe gather at the Palais de Tokyo in Paris to showcase their dazzling but potentially highly dangerous acts. More

Random Celebrity Photo

Debbie Harry

The 50 Greatest Internet Memes of 2012

vRanker pulled in extra help to sift through the memes of 2012 and put them in order for the convenience of anyone who wants to relive them. It wasn't easy!
I think I'm just gonna be frank here: I am, right now, insane. I shouldn't be. I should be the picture of mental health, like I was yesterday. But that was before I agreed to catalogue the best memes of 2012 for Ranker. Before I agreed to comb through an entire year's worth of internet, find the stuff it found interesting and then (this is the part that made me insane) explain why that stuff is interesting to you.
Bonus: it starts with #1, so you can read as far as you are interested. More

Top 40 Best Photographs In Russia 2012

The photo project "Best photographs of Russia" first started in 2008. Any Russian citizen has been able to take part in it no matter if he/she has been a professional photographer or not. But only photos taken on the territory of Russia have been accepted. This year they have chosen a lot of winners: 294!  This is TOP-40 of the best works in 2012. Some of them you could have already seen at EnglishRussia. More

UChicago's Indiana Jones mystery package - Solved!

Last week, the University of Chicago posted that they had received a curious package addressed to Henry Walton Jones, Jr. A student mail worker recognized that name as belonging to a certain Indiana Jones who, in the film trilogy, was a professor at UChicago. The envelope was packed with Indiana Jones ephemera, including a replica of Abner Ravenwood's journal. The University posted the mystery online and it has now been solved. Turns out, the package was an eBay purchase on its way from a seller named Paul, in Guam, to a buyer in Italy.
According to Paul, this package was en route from him in Guam to his intended recipient IN ITALY (registered mail confirmation attached) when it must have fallen out of the package in Hawaii. Our address had originally been put on the manila wrapping of the journal just for cosmetic effect. We believe that the post office wrote on our Zip code on the outside of the package and, believing the Egyptian postage was real, sent it our way. From Guam to Hawaii en route to Italy with a stopover in Chicago: truly an adventure befitting Indiana Jones.

Cube Morphine

No wonder grandpa had no worries

Man gets 5 to 15 years for $36 robbery

Crime may sometimes pay, but a northwestern Pennsylvania man has found out it doesn't pay much.At best, 32-year-old Billy Joe Rash will have earned $7.20 for each year he must spend in prison — and that's only if he's paroled after serving the minimum of his five- to 15-year prison sentence for a $36 robbery on Sept. 4.
That's when the Conneaut Lake man robbed a woman in a restaurant parking lot.
If Rash serves the maximum sentence, he'll have netted just $2.40 for each year he spends in prison.
Adding insult to injury, the Meadville Tribune reports Rash will spend an additional one to five years in prison for an unrelated drunken driving conviction. That puts his total sentence at six to 20 years.

A Christmas Story named to The Library of Congress' Film Registry

Remember Scotty Schwartz?
Mark Kernes Tweets: Remember Scotty Schwartz [pictured left]? He was one of the Hollywood guys that hung around the industry in the '90s, did a bunch of non-sex roles and even a couple of sex scenes.

He's possibly best remembered for being the kid whose tongue got stuck to a lamppost in "A Christmas Story." So guess what? The Library of Congress's 2012 National Film Registry has picked "A Christmas Story" as one of its top 25 must-be-preserved movies. A PORN STAR (sorta) IN THE NATIONAL FILM REGISTRY — AWRIGHT!

Scotty who starred in Scotty's X Rated Adventure with Juli Ashton for Wicked Pictures will have his autobiography out in 2013 for the 30th anniversary of A Christmas Story.

Hotel's solar "death ray"

Bill Pintas was vacationing in Las Vegas when he decided to stay at the swank new Vdara hotel, a curvy 57-story tower owned by MGM Resorts. He was sitting at the pool when he encountered something alarming. He recalls, "I'm sitting there in the chair and all of the sudden my hair and the top of my head are burning. I'm rubbing my head and it felt like a chemical burn. I couldn't imagine what it could be." ..

Speaking with employees, he was alarmed to find out that the hotel staff was aware of the situation. He recalls, "They're kind of giggling and say: 'Yeah, we know. We call it the death ray." The "death ray" appears to be created by the glass surface of the hotel itself -- acting as a concentrating parabolic dish -- similar to those used to heat water to a boil in solar power systems.

The dish concentrates light on a 10-foot by 15-foot hot zone moving across the pool. Temperatures in this area spike 20 degrees Fahrenheit -- or more...
This was reported in Daily Tech a couple of years ago, so perhaps they have solved the problem by now.

Random Photo

Welcome to the Realm of Quantum Foam

A tabletop-sized piece of kit could help us probe the tiniest quantum scale possible -- where phantom particles pop in and out of existence. Read more Welcome to the Realm of Quantum Foam

When the Air Force Wanted to Nuke the Moon

In 1958, the U.S. Air Force considered nuking the Moon for science... and political might. Read more When the Air Force Wanted to Nuke the Moon

Five Planets, One 'Habitable,' May Circle Tau Ceti

One of our solar system's nearest neighbors appears to have five planets circling the parent star, all closer than Mars orbits the sun. Read more
  Five Planets, One 'Habitable,' May Circle Tau Ceti

Cassini's Christmas Gift: In the Shadow of Saturn

The NASA spacecraft has captured one of its most dazzling views of the ringed gas giant yet. Read more Cassini's Christmas Gift: In the Shadow of Saturn

Beefing Up the Universe's Biggest Black Holes

X-ray evidence for the most massive black holes in our universe has been discovered -- but they're not supermassive, they're ULTRAmassive. Read more Beefing Up the Universe's Biggest Black Holes

The Girl Who Trains Foxes

Did you know that foxes could be trained too and even potentially become pets? Irina Mukhametshina, 22, from Novosibirsk, Russia, is just someone who trains foxes. Her animals belong to the Novosibirsk Institute of Cytology and Genetics which is studying the process of domestication of wild animals and trying to create a special "social" type of foxes, which need to communicate with humans. Irina tells it's quite curious to work with the foxes: they wag their tails and ask for your attention just like dogs. More

New Zealand Sheep Avoids Being Sheared For 6 Years

It was hiding in a cave

Spider creates "decoy" of self

It turns out the master designer behind this somewhat creepy form is in fact a tiny spider, only about 5mm in body length, that is hiding behind or above that false, bigger spider made up of debris. After discussing with several spider experts, we've determined it is quite probable that this spider is a never-before-seen species in the genus Cyclosa. This genus is known for having spiders that put debris in their webs to either attract prey or, as in this case, confuse anything trying to eat them. New Species of 'Decoy' Spider Likely Discovered At Tambopata Research Center

The Fabulous Silk of Golden Orb-Weaver Spiders

Find out about the amazing golden-orb weaver, which spins silk five times stronger than steel, uses chemicals to repel ants, and can even capture and eat birds! More

Animal Pictures